Rush and the Republicans

Facing an intense backlash from the public against their recent war on the reproductive freedoms of women, Republicans spent considerable effort last week trying to change the conversation to one of “religious freedom.” Whether they were making headway is debatable, but it no longer matters — thanks to Rush Limbaugh.

The birth-control issue was never really about religion, of course. Religious institutions are already exempt from any mandate to provide contraceptive care to employees. But that exemption doesn’t extend to non-religious business enterprises owned by a church, such as the Catholic network of church-owned hospitals. 

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Conservatives, eager to chip away at President Obama’s new healthcare law, enthusiastically championed the hospitals’ “freedom” to deny employees contraceptive care. In fact, they’ve gone much further, demanding a “conscience” exemption for any employer — not just religious institutions — that objects to birth-control coverage for its employees. 

“Republicans … believe that contraception should remain a private affair, and that employers and insurers should be free to decide whether to cover contraception for their employees,” wrote Ed Morrissey, a prominent conservative blogger. “Democrats … demand that those choices be stripped from private enterprises.”

Exactly. Republicans believe that employers can meddle with their employees’ medical decisions, while Democrats believe that it’s none of those employers’ business, and that individuals should have the freedom to decide for themselves.

Which brings us to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who drove conservative radio icon Rush Limbaugh nearly insane by testifying that women can have non-sexual reasons for being prescribed oral contraceptives, such as polycystic ovary syndrome. 

“What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?” he bloviated on the air. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”

And that was just the start of a relentless campaign against Fluke. “Can you imagine if you’re her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth-control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the pope.” 

He also said that Fluke was “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk,” and as the coup de grâce, declared, “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” 

Again, Fluke never testified about sex, but about medical conditions that are treated with oral contraceptives. Yet for defending a woman’s right to medical care, she was called a slut and whore a total of 53 times over three days. Of course, no one is asking Rush to pay for anyone’s contraceptives — unless they are employees of his, and even then it’s none of his business what they discuss with their doctors. And it sure isn’t his business how much or how little sex they have.

The resulting firestorm has already cost Limbaugh more than a dozen major advertisers and at least one radio station. But the biggest damage is to Republicans who hoped to deflect from their anti-sex, anti-women agenda.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).